Wolves in the Throne Room
Jan. 23, 2012
Better than: Anarcho-Punk bands performing at the Republican National Convention.
It's easy to see how Wolves in the Throne Room are demonized by many cult black metal fans as the group most responsible for the neutering and repackaging of their beloved genre for middle-class Americans. Unfortunately, the band's live performance at Slim's last night offered little in the way of redemption.
The sheer incongruity between the band's diligently cultivated stage setup and the professional venue stank of contrived posturing and sensationalism. The stage was draped with elaborate black banners depicting white animal etchings underscored by cryptic words in that unmistakable, ceaselessly recycled black metal script. Before the band's set began, with fog machines running thick, an eerie ambiance had begun to envelop the room. But the Slim's intercom cheerily announcing coat checking and dinner options obliterated any potential moodiness. It reinforced the unavoidable conclusion that one was witnessing a gimmicky spectacle. Even the animal bones and candles adorning WITTR's merchandise table were like a gloomy playground for young professionals to moonlight as occultists and throw money around.
The massive accumulation of black cotton adorned with illegible band names in white ink reached from atop the stage to the very back of the room. It was as if Jackson Pollock had been hired to design 100 black metal band logos in one hour using only his left foot and a bucket of Wite-Out. It's plausible that black metal bands cull letters from their scribbled logos after designing them.
The crowd was rather diverse in its attitudes, however. The character of many concert-goers became evident during Worm Ouroboros' performance. They were a wise choice to play before Wolves in the Throne Room, as they asserted an equally dark aesthetic with much different execution. Mournful, bleak passages trudged along at a morose pace beneath ethereal contributions of two female vocalists, and many audience members swooned over the captivating set.
Other attendees mocked Worm Ouroboros, such as the two burly men riotously laughing as they slow-danced during a particularly soft segment. Their dates meekly pleaded for tolerance, but soon realized the useless of their request. Another gentleman aggressively elbowed his through the crowd only to flip off the band and cackle to himself. Apparently, there was a large contingent of the audience that wasn't interested in metal with dynamics. It was a shame these listeners remained so close-minded toward the performance, since Worm Ouroboros was heavier than the plague, with class to boot, as they carefully sipped from wine glasses between songs.
If a monotonous sonic barrage was what certain impatient attendees were hoping for, Wolves in the Throne Room delivered. Obscuring melody with noise can be a potent aesthetic decision, but the band's effectiveness ceased there, as the entirely one-dimensional performance became a tedious chore to witness.
Their proper albums reveal some technical innovation and surprising genre-hopping. But live, Wolves in the Throne Room adhered to a strict formula. Each song began with a wash of feedback and guitar dawdling, quickly descended into blast beats, slowed down momentarily, and repeated. The vocalist's consistent screeches were grotesquely impressive, but in a Ripley's Believe It or Not-sort of way: Demanding attention for a brief moment, but inevitably cast aside and forgotten once something with actual substance presents itself.
Fans might contend that Wolves in the Throne Room are best understood through careful deconstruction, as if isolating the influences and historical context for the band's musical subtleties would shed light upon its sophistication. But based upon the elaborate façade presented at Slim's last night, the heart of their aesthetic seems steeped in deceit.
Opener: Ashborer, also known as Five Men Four Faces, might have noticed that they weren't playing together if they had peered out from beneath their hair. Perhaps their most significant accomplishment was to wildly traverse their guitars' fret boards while the tonal fluctuation remained inexplicably static.